The Use of the Jesus Prayer in the Parish Setting and Its Relationship to Perceptions of Well-being Open Access

Kouri, Alex (2013)

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Orthodox Christianity is a faith developed within a therapeutic paradigm. According to Orthodox theology, sin is not understood as a crime to be punished but rather a wound to be healed. Many disorders described in the DSM-IV (such as various anxiety and depressive disorders) are seen in the Orthodox Church as consequences of a wounded nous (the faculty of the soul that relates with God). Spiritual practices have developed over the course of many centuries that function as tools for healing the nous. The Jesus Prayer is one such spiritual practice. Paradoxically, however, the Jesus Prayer (as well as many other spiritual practices) is oftentimes unknown in the contemporary parish community. Every Orthodox Christian congregation has people who suffer from a low perception of mental, spiritual, and interpersonal well-being. Yet the spiritual practices that may ameliorate these feelings are not practiced.

This study examines the role that the Jesus Prayer could play in the lives of average parishioners who dedicate themselves to this spiritual practice. In particular, it investigates the relationship of the Jesus Prayer with perceptions of spiritual, mental, and social well-being. Nineteen parishioners took part in an eight week study which included classes on the meaning and practice of the Jesus Prayer. They also committed themselves for the duration of the study to practice the Jesus Prayer on a daily basis. Quantitative surveys were used before and after the study along with a qualitative open ended question. The results represent not only a confirmation of the efficacy of the Jesus Prayer but also its potential within a parish setting.

Additionally, the study explores the relationship of spiritual practices such as the Jesus Prayer with western therapeutic models such as object relations theory and the writings of Donald Winnicott in particular. Thus the study has implications far beyond the Orthodox Church as it may serve as a positive and welcome encounter between the secular and the mystical, and of psychotherapeutic methods and spiritual practices.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 - Introduction 1

Significance of the problem - The lack of an integration of spirituality into daily life 1

Practice of the Jesus Prayer as a possible aid in the resolution of the problem 5

The Jesus Prayer as a Vehicle for Integration 5

Integration of body and soul 7

Doxological Theology intended to restore wholeness 12

Integration of Divine and Human, Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy 15

Integration brings a greater sense of Well-being 17

Well-being and the True Self 17

Interpersonal/Intersubjective nature of Trinity 20

Image and Likeness 26

Theosis and Healing 31

Chapter 2: Literature Review 41

Research and studies on the Jesus Prayer 41

Writings on the Jesus Prayer 45

Early Christian writers 45

Early Hesychastic Writers 49

Renewal of Hesychasm 52

Later Hesychastic Writers 54

Contemporary elders 55

Contemporary theologians 58

Chapter 3: Methodology 61

Orthodox Pastoral Challenge 61

Theological Method 62

Research Paradigm 65

Research Methods 67

Participants 67

Materials 68

Instruments 68

Chapter 4: Quantitative Results 74

Findings 74

Pre-treatment DSES 77

Pre-treatment WEMWBS 80

Pre-treatment EQRI 83

Post-treatment DSES 88

Post-treatment WEMWBS 91

Post-treatment EQRI 94

Analyses and Evaluation of the Findings 99

Pre-Treatment/Post Treatment DSES 99

Pre-Treatment/Post Treatment WEMWBS 113

Pre-Treatment/Post Treatment EQRI 127

Pre-Treatment/Post Treatment All Instruments 145

Chapter 5: Qualitative Result 146

Findings 147

Chapter 6: Summary, Conclusions, and Recommendations 158

Overview of the Study 158

DSES Findings. 159

WEMWBS Findings. 159

EQRI Findings. 159

Qualitative Findings. 159

Conclusions 160

Implications 161

Implications for Orthodox Pastors and Health Professionals 161

Implications Beyond the Orthodox Church 162

Implications for Object Relations Therapists 162

Limitations 164

Recommendations 165

Appendix 1. Informed consent 169

Appendix 2. Pre-treatment questionnaires/instruments 173

Appendix 3. Post-treatment questionnaires/instruments 177

Appendix 4: The weekly Presentation of the Practice of the Jesus Prayer 182

Class 1: Introduction 182

Class 2: Scriptural Basis of the Jesus Prayer 182

On praying without ceasing 182

On name of Jesus 183

On the word mercy 184

Faith and Love 185

Time of prayer 187

Class 3: Silence 190

Class 4: Distractions 193

Outside of Prayer 193

Sensual Distractions 193

Spiritual Distractions 195

Moments just before prayer 197

During Prayer 198

Class 5: Communal Aspect of Prayer and Salvation 200

Class 6: Repentance 203

Therapeutic Model 203

Heart/Nous 205

Being Aware of the Illness 205

Class 7: Warming the heart 209

Class 8: Prayer as a way of Life 211

References 215

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